Dragon's Lair Pagan Parlor MoonDragon's Pagan Pathways: Rituals RITES FOR THE DEAD
PAGAN BELIEFS ABOUT DEATH
Pagans believe that physical death is not the end of life. The dead become unborn, and
enter into a state where they may find temporary rest, after which healing and renewing
energy for rebirth into a new life occur.
Believers in the pagan goddess traditions wash the dead body with a mixture consisting
of spring water, a few drops of ocean water (or water from another special place), scented
oil, and the herb rosemary for purity and protection. While washing, a special blessing
is usually said. Then, the body is smudged (or censed) with an appropriate incense for
the cleansing. Finally, the body is wrapped or dress in simple cloth or clothing.
Pagans hold funerals and memorial services, during which, special prayers are said to
help guide the dead to healing in their afterlife journey to rebirth. Rituals include
offerings to nature and the ancestors, invoking spirits, music, chanting, sharing stories and more.
"A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own." --Thomas Mann
What I'm going to propose here are some ideas for last rites - as with most of the
other rites in this turn of the personal wheel, what happens at this time is going
to rely on several factors, one being the person's own wishes (and we can hope that
the person took the survivors, and not just themselves, into account when they
considered how they wanted to be remembered in that final rite), the wishes/will
of the family, and the traditions of those doing the rite.
The most difficult problem that pagan folk run into when one of their members dies is
that responsibility for their last rites goes to the next of kin. It is a painful
reality that devout pagans often end up being buried in a Christian (or other religious)
service, because the family is the one legally entitled to bury them. Their pagan
friends have no such rights.
So! If you are a pagan, and you have certain wishes as to your last rites, it is time
to arrange things legally, so that those who will respect your wishes will be in charge.
Otherwise, your family is going to claim you and bury you as they want you buried,
not as you or any of your pagan family know you would want to be buried.
White candles, white altar, flowers (white is the color of death and mourning in many
countries; but in this case, it is also a reminder of rebirth; in this rite, we are
going to focus on that).
A picture of the loved one.
A vase of flowers, enough for all.
A pitcher of water and a basin, to be set up just outside the circle for ritual "hand-washing."
The Ashes for burial if this is a burial rite as well.
One thought is to have a cauldron filled with earth, and a bowl filled with seeds.
Have each person plant a seed in the cauldron.
Each person, using the urn of water, should rinse their hands just before entering
the circle. This unifies the mourners and it emphasizes the quiet, special feel of
Cast the Circle:
You might want to use callings for the quarters created/used by the loved one, and
call upon his/her favored deities, as well as the God and Goddess.
HP/S states that all are here "to remember ________name, born_________, died____________.
He/She has gone on to Summerland and now awaits rebirth."
Starting with a meditation or a song is always good at such times. Meditations on
one's own personal death, or on a last communication with the loved one, or on a
remembrance of past lives would be good. You might have slow drumming or soft music.
I would then pass round the photo, have each person look at it, hold it before them
so that it is facing the rest of the group, and relate a favored anecdote about the
This can also be done with a bottle of booze if you wish to make it more of a wake,
or with a special talisman of the person.
If this is a burial as well, then all should head out to the area where the ashes are
to be scattered (or the body buried) and there should be a rite at this point, as
well. People may wish to bury with the person certain items - a wand or, if the
loved one was a tarot reader, a deck of cards. People may wish to say good-bye.
The HP/S should have a final word before the circle is opened. With everyone holding
hands, she should speak to/of the Goddess, of the turning of the Wheel, of rebirth,
of this person now gone, and how we will all meet them again to enjoy, once again,
their many wonderful qualities.
The HP/S should add that, in the loved one's place, she offers everyone a flower to
take home as a farewell gift. She should then open the circle. Hugs should be exchanged.
RITUAL FOR MISCARRIAGE / LOSS OF A BABY
A miscarriage is a very painful thing. Especially if you want a child very badly.
Miscarriages happen because the baby is not viable. If a miscarriage is going to
happen there is nothing you can do to stop it, it is just not time for you or that
baby to experience a birth.
You will probably feel guilty, but there is no need to be. You will probably look for
a reason why it happened. What did you do wrong? What could you have done better?
Unless you were doing things that are totally against all medical suggestions,
like say being a hard core drug addict, there was almost certainly nothing that
you could have done to cause or to prevent it and even if you are a hard core drug
addict that is still probably not the cause. That one little drinking binge did not
cause it. The artificial sweeteners did not cause it either, nor did the exercise.
After a miscarriage you will probably be very emotional. This is because your body
is still running with pregnancy hormones and needs to get itself back into balance.
Don't be afraid to ask your friends for support. You deserve it; you just lost a baby.
It is not wrong to acknowledge that you were pregnant and lost a child. You are not less
of a woman or a mother because of it. I read about a woman who had eight miscarriages and
then carried a baby to term.
You might want to consider having a naming ceremony to help bring a sense of closure.
If you have family or friends that understand you can ask them to attend. How elaborate
you want it to be is up to you. Something as simple as naming the lost baby and wishing
it well on its journey may be enough for some. Others may wish to have others bring
naming wish gifts and include a burial. It is up to the mother to decide what is
appropriate for her if a ceremony is wanted.
This ritual was set up by a Pagan mother who had miscarried her baby:
After setting up a simple altar with four candles (a central white candle and black,
red and white candles) and a rosebud, and ritually establishing sacred space, the
woman lit the central candle and said:
It is the way of Life that all living beings,
whether early or late,
come unto Death,
that in Time,
they may come round again to circle in Life.
She picked up and cradled the rosebud, symbol of her lost child, saying:
And so unto Death have you gone,
my little one,
blood of my blood,
flesh of my flesh,
Child of My Heart;
like this bud never to bloom,
not in the fullness of time
to bear seeds, wither and die.
Yet like this flower bud,
a thing of joy and beauty
even for all its unfulfilled promise,
so you were for me a wondrous and magical experience
Thank you for your precious gift.
Then she lit the three candles, symbols of the three aspects of the Goddess
(Maiden, Mother and Crone) saying:
Of the Triple Goddess,
She Who Opens and Shuts All Doors,
Lady of All Joys and Sorrows,
I ask for you:
that the Crone always fly you to Summerland wrapped in the softest black feathers;
that the Mother always comfort you in Her loving embrace;
that the Maiden always smile brightly on you.
Know that there will always be an empty place under my heart that cannot be filled,
where your memory shall dwell forever.
I bid you a pleasant journey,
and a peaceful sojourn.
and return again.
Fare thee well, forever.
Then she extinguished the central candle, and buried the rosebud saying:
So Mote It Be.
This simple ritual seems to describe a coming to terms with a personal and deeply
felt death in a way not consistent with Aries' description of contemporary views.
Here death is recognized and the grief process allowed within a safe space. The child
is recognized and released, the death is seen as an inevitable part of the circle of
life and belief in the child's ability to return is affirmed. The child's death is
accepted as the "way of Life of all living beings," "Fate," not the result of untamed
nature nor some evil force. At the same time death is not an insignificant, ordinary
event but one worthy of ritualizing in a personal way.
A High Priest and High Priestess may be chosen to lead this ritual or various parts
may be given to various member of friends and family.
Be this circle bound as we desire!
So mote it be!"
I conjure thee,
O Circle of power
That this be a meeting place of truth, love and joy.
A shield against all wickedness and evil,
a boundary between the worlds of men
and the realms of the mighty ones.
A rampart of protection
that will preserve and contain the energy that we will raise within thee.
In the names of the Dark Goddess and the Dark Tanist.
So mote it be.
O candle of power
to this circle give the knowledge and truth
in which all power lives.
So mote it be.
O candle of light
send forth all we do
to cause only changes deserving and true.
So mote it be.
O candle of the mother
on whom we all live
for all that we take
in return we must give.
So mote it be.
(Use Silver Branch)
Great Guardians of the (N,S,E,W,)
we call to your powers.
Be here in our circle,
join our rite.
So mote it be.
We call to the Dark Goddess,
Sister in life and death.
Be with us,
join our rite!
We call to the Dark Tanist
who resides in Caer Sidi,
Greeter at the gates of Death and Life again.
Be with us,
join our rite!
(The Rite of Passage)
Tonight we gather to bid farewell
to one who has begun the journey from life into death.
Tonight we gather to call the Ancestors,
those who have gone before us,
to be with us in this rite.
We call to the Goddess and God to join us in this rite.
We call to the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water,
to be with us here tonight.
(Light Lavender Candle)
We call to _________.
May you hear our words tonight.
Though we know you cannot take any physical gifts with you
on this journey you make to the other world,
we gather to offer you gifts of energy.
Gifts to guide and ease your journey.
Gifts to empower you to cross the bridge
and Gifts to bless you
when once again you leave the land of Spirit
for rebirth to the Land of Life.
We offer these gifts into the Cauldron of Rebirth.
(Each coven member and friend places their herb gift into the cauldron and speaks the
gift to share with everyone.)
I offer the gift of (herb name)
May it (Purpose).
(All offer their gifts individually.)
We offer these gifts to you (name).
May they bless you now and always.
By Water may your emotions be carried and cleansed.
By Fire may your soul light shine brightly in the other world.
By Air may your spirit rise and soar.
By Earth may you find comfort and peace within Her arms.
May the Ancestors light your path.
May the Goddess embrace your soul.
May the God guide your rebirth.
And may the Wheel turn again to bring you there.
Merry Part, Blessed Be, and Merry Meet Again.
(A small amount of the mixed herbs are placed in a small mojo for the family
and the rest are burned to release the spell.)
(As they are burned the group may wish to chant the following traditional chant):
Hoof and Horn,
Hoof and Horn,
All That Dies Shall Be Reborn,
Corn and Grain,
Corn and Grain,
All That Falls Shall Rise Again.
(Move into the symbolic Great Rite. If possible this should be performed by the
mourning family members to symbolically reaffirm the power of life.)
As the Athame is to the Male,
So the Cup is to the Female,
And when joined they bring Truth, Love and Life.
May these cakes be blessed
with Love, Joy and the Hope of future life.
We thank you God and Goddess,
You who reign in the Underworld,
for joining our rite.
Be with us again
when we call you forth.
Merry Part, Blessed Be, Merry Meet Again.
Guardians of the N,S,E,W,
we thank you for your part in our circle.
Return from whence you came
harming none along the way.
So mote it be.
This circle is open but never broken.
May the Blessings of the Dark God And Dark Goddess
teach you the value of life!
So mote it be!
Someone passing from our lives be it human or animal is often a shock. It is perfectly
natural to grieve and to question what happens after death. My personal beliefs are that
anything with spirit has a choice at the point of death, whether to go to the Summerlands
and rest or to reincarnate immediately. Of course eventually once they have learned all
they are meant to learn they can spend the rest of eternity in the Summerlands. I also
feel that souls of loved ones do watch over us even if they reincarnate. There is always
the Dreamworld after all.
I also believe that it is better to celebrate someone's life once they pass than to
grieve it. Not to say that we shouldn't grieve. Throw a party for your loved ones when
they pass from this life. Death like birth is all a part of the cycle and if we celebrate
one we should celebrate the other. Bring together the things that they loved and remember
the part that they played in your life. Feel free to express your feeling of sadness and
loss, but try to focus on the impact they made with their lives, not with their death.
There can be no one set ritual for such a ceremony since all people are different. The
ritual should be tailored to the one who passed and those who will be attending. As such
it could be a full formal ritual or a simple ritual with no more than a quick invitation
to the powers that be to attend.
Here is a basic sample of what I am describing above:
Gather together items that meant something to your loved one. You might also wish to
include pictures of them or gifts that they gave you or things they made with their own
hands. If they were a good cook or a food lover, feel free to make one of their favorite
dishes to share as part of the ritual.
Invite the elements, spirit guides and deities that you wish to be present.
To open the ritual you may something like:
We have come together to celebrate the passing over into a new life of _______.
He/She has touched each of our lives in so many ways. Now is a time to celebrate their
life and understand our sadness. Know that _________ is not lost to us, but rather will
be a part of our lives in a different way now. Know that they are at peace and the
spirits are watching over them."
You could then make a list of things that your loved one cared about, asking the guests
to add to it. Then open up the floor for people to share, if they feel moved to, how the
one who passed touched their lives or brought light into the world. Let people share for
as long as they need to. This ritual is really much more for the living than for the
You could choose to end it with words along these lines:
_______ Is still with us. She/He was here with us this evening (morning, whatever).
He/she will remain with us in spirit.
You might want to follow that with future instances where the loved one will be present
in spirit, like weddings, graduations, watching young ones grow, etc...
He will be there for Tina's wedding, to walk her up the aisle in spirit form and will
be there to watch her children, his grandchildren, grow.
Then use any closing that you are comfortable with.
I am personally working to gather together memorabilia of those I love who have passed
on to incorporate into an "ancestors" shrine for Samhain. This will include pictures
of relatives, pets and other loved ones that have passed. Since the veil between the
worlds is the thinnest at Samhain it is an opportune time to remember those that have
passed from our lives. I plan to either make a collage or set up the pictures on a
common use table (perhaps the coffee table) and then cover them with clear plastic
so that they will be present with me visually as I go about my life. I plan to bring
out the pictures every year a couple of weeks before Samhain and then put them away a
couple of days after. I might work up a personal ritual as well, but I haven't gotten
that far yet. I feel this might be a good way to help young children learn to know those
who have passed on before they got a chance to know them.
Earth brings us into life
and nourishes us.
Earth takes us back again
Birth and death are present in every moment
(Thich Nhat Hanh, Earth Prayers - page 367)
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
(Joyce Fossen, Earth Prayers - page 30)
RITE FOR THE DEAD
(From A Book of Pagan Rituals by Herman Slater)
If one has lost a member of his or her family and desires a Pagan ceremony at the interment,
this rite may be performed. This rite can be adapted for use when cremation has been chosen
in place of burial.
As the coffin is carried to the burying ground, four torchbearers should accompany it - one before
the pallbearers, one behind, and one on either side. The priestess and priest shall walk at the
head of the procession of mourners. The nearest of kin should walk with them. The priestess
should carry three boughs of evergreen, and flowers; others in the procession should be
encouraged to carry flowers also. The priest should have placed a net over the coffin.
As the coffin is placed in the grave, the priest shall place one torch-bearer at the foot of
the grave, one at either side, and one behind the priest, priestess, and family who all do
stand at the head. When all is in readiness, the priest will hold both hands aloft and say:
We gather here now
To bid farewell to (name of person being buried)
Who must travel far.
The blessings of the Goddess,
Of the God, of the Old Ones
And of good friends and family
Are with you
As you travel beyond.
If it is so desired by friends and family, the priestess or priest, or others, may at this time
give a brief eulogy for the departed. If singing is desired, it can be done at this time.
The priest shall then say:
There is a reason for being here
In this world and this life.
There is a reason for leaving,
When the purposes of this life are done.
The soul must journey beyond
To pause, to rest,
To wait for those who are loved.
For the world beyond is a land
Of eternal summer, and of joy,
Far from the cares of this world,
With happiness and with youth anew.
There is a pause for a few moments.
The priestess shall place the three boughs of evergreen atop the coffin, saying:
As the evergreen does grow and prosper
Both in summer and in winter,
Year after year,
So also does the soul continue
From life to life to life....
Growing ever stronger, wiser, and richer.
The priest then places flowers upon the casket, saying:
May the servants of the gods
Escort you with honor
To their own land
Of light, of beauty, and of joy.
Flowers should be strewn on and about the coffin by all present. All those who are present
should retire to relax, and have a memorial dinner. All should endeavor to turn sorrow into
lightheartedness and joy, for with death... only the physical body is lost... and nothing more.
The four torches should be stuck in the ground about the grave and left there to burn out.
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May the powers of The One,
The source of all creation;
May the Goddess, the Lady of the Moon;
And the God, Horned Hunter of the Sun;
May the Rulers of the Elemental Realms, Earth, Air, Fire and Water;
May the powers of the Stars above and the Earth below,
Bless this web site, and this time, and I who am with You.
I ask for you to protect these pages,
And that no harm to those who visit here.
So mote it be.
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